In May of 1990 I was working on a feature story for the Philadelphia Inquirer about the fact that nuns were getting older and new nuns were not taking their place. The 132 acre province was home to the dwindling order of Sisters of Saint Basil The Great in Glenside. I believe I spent a day and a half there making pictures. It was a time when newspapers would give a photojournalist the time needed to capture images that would illustrate a story and do it justice. They also allotted a good amount of space for it with the Neighbors sections.
While I was wandering around the motherhouse grounds I met a few nuns that were kind enough to allow me to hang with them as they went about their day. One sister tended to horses, another maneuvered a tractor across the lawn, one nun was tending her garden and yet another was washing outdoor furniture. Some of the nuns taught at St. Basil Academy. The one I have never forgotten is the sister I met in one of the buildings of Manor College. Upstairs far above the classrooms was an attic which Sister Josaphat Slobodian used as her workspace. There, every Easter, she made Ukrainian Easter Eggs with a technique referred to as “Pysanky.” According to pysanky.info, Pysanky is an Easter egg decorated using a wax resist (aka batik) method. Its name derives from the Ukrainian verb “pysaty,” meaning “to write. Design motifs on pysanky date back to pre-Christian times–many date to early Slavic cultures, while some harken to the days of the Trypillians, my neolithic ancestors, others to paleolithic times.”
It is a really interesting process to watch. Sister Josaphat allowed me to hang around while she made the eggs. Some of the details in the eggs must have taken her hours to finish. They were so detailed with indicate patterns. I must say, it was some of the most inspiring art work I had seen in a while.
Sadly, Sister Josaphat passed away a few years ago. I just found that information out a few days ago. But with Easter coming, I thought it appropriate to share some of the images I made while she created her Ukrainian Easter Eggs May 1, 1990. A few days after I made these images, a small box showed up in the mail at the office. It held a very cool Ukranian Easter Egg that Sister Josaphat had made. It was one of the finished eggs in her collection that she noticed me admiring the day I was at the Motherhouse. In the box was a nice thank you note.
Twenty eight years later, I still have that egg. It rests on my mantle.
Every time I look at it I think of Sister Josaphat.